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Source: http://news.yahoo.com/no-indictment-chaos-fills-ferguson-streets-083434303.html

Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, most peacefully, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.

I think it should be understood like this: thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, (and) most (of the people who were present at the protests rallied) peacefully. Just a reality check.

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Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, most peacefully, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.

I agree that the meaning here is

Most of the people who rallied did so in a peaceful manner.

One might try to read it as

All the people mentioned, thousands of them, rallied in a most peaceful manner.

but that would be at odds with today's reports in the media. Furthermore, the style would be too poetic, or maybe even a bit archaic, for a newspaper report.

On top of that, per comments below, it seems that we can't really read the sentence this way. The part "most peacefully" is not an adverb phrase. An adverb phrase modifying just the verb "rallied" would not have been set off with commas:

Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities most peacefully, and...

If it were an adverb phrase set off by commas, it would've modified the whole preceding clause, like this, for example:

Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, most sadly...

Here, most sadly means not "people rallied sadly" but serves as a commentary to the situation as a whole.

Since "most peacefully" cannot be a commentary on the situation as a whole, it is not an adverbial clause, and the sentence cannot be taken to mean "people .. rallied in the most peaceful manner."

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    Agree. The second option would sound archaic or foreign to my American ear. I think it is safe to assume the writer meant the first interpretation. – michelle Nov 25 '14 at 14:40
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    I think the comma preceding "most peacefully" is the giveaway. If there was no comma, then it would indicate the rallying was quite peaceful. With the comma, it clearly indicates that a majority of the people rallying were peaceful. – talrnu Nov 25 '14 at 15:33
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    Agreed with Talrnu - the comma separates the clauses, indicating that "most" refers to people, not peace. This sentence cannot be read as people rallying in a most peaceful manner. – Jon Story Nov 25 '14 at 15:35
  • @JonStory, talmu - thanks! I wonder if the minus vote on my post is for that. I'll read up on the topic and possibly remodel the answer. Is that a "nonrestrictive modifying clause" modifying "people"? I'm not sure yet.. But I've found that seemingly an adverb phrase only can be set off with commas if it refers to the sentence as a whole. Maybe I'll mention that. – CowperKettle Nov 25 '14 at 16:20
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    It was indeed the cause of at least one minus vote (hi) - I'll happily remove it when you've edited the question, but I gave it as I felt the answer was incorrect in the current state – Jon Story Nov 25 '14 at 16:52
3

The OP asks about the following:

Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, most peacefully, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.

I do not know if this is a quote from the article or from the accompanying video, as I am getting no audio from the video and the article contains a sentence that is worded differently from the one the OP asks about. I will quote that below.

I also am unsure if the word most is actually stressed in the source or whether the OP has stressed it.

Either way, if most is stressed or not, the phrase most peacefully is most naturally read as most (of the thousands of people)(rallied in other U.S. cities) peacefully.

From the article the (current?) punctuation is:

Thousands of people rallied — mostly peacefully — in other U.S. cities on Monday night, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.

Here, mostly peacefully modifies either (a) rallies or (b) Thousands of people rallied. Since the finite verb of the clause is rallies, it really doesn't matter. The phrase mostly peacefully describes how the thousands of people rallied.

-2

First and foremost, language is spoken. Writing is, first and foremost, an attempt to record speech. The parsing rhythms determine the meaning here, and thus the punctuation should reflect them according to the meaning the speaker (writer) desires to convey.

If I wanted to say that the people at the rally were exceptionally peaceful, I would say it like this:

Thousands of people {pause} rallied most peacefully.

Thousands of people rallied most peacefully.

If I wanted to say that a few people at the rally were not peaceful, I would say it like this:

Thousands of people rallied {pause} most {pause} peacefully.

Thousands of people rallied, most, peacefully.

P.S. A more "contemporary" punctuation (but not necessarily more correct) would be:

Thousands of people rallied—most, peacefully. (That is, a dash after rallied).

  • This downvote needs an explanation. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 25 '14 at 15:46
  • "Thousands of people rallied, most, peacefully" It's very unnatural to put "most" in parenthesis there, rather than "most peacefully." If you don't like the very slight ambiguity of the construction, "Thousands of people rallied, most of them peacefully" is much more natural. – David Richerby Nov 25 '14 at 15:47
  • Where do you see parentheses? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 25 '14 at 15:47
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    With that second comma the sentence makes no sense. "Most peacefully" is a parenthetical clause at the end of the sentence, and should be separated from the primary clause by a single comma. "Thousands of people rallied, most peacefully". – mikeagg Nov 25 '14 at 15:49
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    @mikeagg: "... most (ellipsis: rallied|of them) peacefully" is a clause. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 25 '14 at 17:44

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